Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Environment and Communications References Committee; Reference
All of us, all Australians, rely on oil and gas. Unfortunately, because we are not producing as much, particularly oil, from the Bass Strait anymore, our reliance on overseas imports to serve those needs have increased rapidly, particularly in the last 20 years. At the start of this century, on the eve of September 11, we as a nation produced enough petroleum products to supply 95 per cent of our nation's needs—95 per cent of our nation's needs in 2000-01. Sixteen years later, in 2016-17—the latest figures we have—we only produced enough petroleum to serve 48 per cent of our nation's domestic needs. Most of that comes from northern Western Australia. It is exported, too, because of its proximity to those markets. But the fact is, in the space of less than 20 years, we have gone from being effectively or almost self-sufficient in petroleum products to being able to supply only half of our domestic needs. That is a serious issue. It is a serious issue for consumers in Australia. But it is probably more of a serious issue for the security of our nation, given our vulnerability now due to the need to import such important products as oil.
We should continue to search for new areas like the Bass Strait, which has served us so well for 50 years. We should bring the best science to bear to do that. And, of course, in doing that, we should make sure we consider, listen to and protect other Australian industries that might be affected by that search. That is why we are actively engaged in this. Senator Whish-Wilson touched on this and glossed over it a bit.
As I said, we have a very robust independent regulatory process. All applications to conduct seismic testing or petroleum production in Australia require approval from NOPSEMA, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority. It is an independent agency. It is incredibly robust. I think it is staffed with extremely well qualified and diligent public servants, and they independently assess all of these plans. Again, Senator Whish-Wilson just glosses over the facts that aren't convenient to his cause. He didn't mention that one of the large seismic proposals he was speaking about, a proposal by CGG for off the coast of Victoria, was recently sent back by NOPSEMA. NOPSEMA thought that CGG's plans, their proposals, were not up to scratch and NOPSEMA sent them back to CGG—which they do all the time. They are very diligent regulators. And, by the statute NOPSEMA operate under, they must not accept environmental plans that pose a risk to the environment which is not as low as practicable, and they take that very, very seriously. This of course includes assessing the risks to other industries, including our very important fishing industry.
That's why we as a government are very actively engaged with international researchers and the science on these matters. We have funded a number of research projects in recent years on the impact of seismic surveys, including their impact on zooplankton, marine invertebrates, rock lobsters and others. These have been funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation, the industry and government. In 2016, Geoscience Australia, another fantastic independent government agency, published in its marine pollution bulletin a comprehensive review and evaluation of existing research on seismic impacts on fish and invertebrates. In 2017 the CSIRO, an extremely respected research institution in our country, completed an independent zooplankton modelling study. All of those are available publicly. As Senator Whish-Wilson outlined, funding has been provided to the Australian Institute of Marine Science to undertake further research into the impacts of sound from seismic air guns and vessels on benthic fish and pearl oysters.
This research, as I said, is publicly available. I regularly catch up with those doing this research and with NOPSEMA, as I mentioned, to make sure that they are properly assessing this. All of this science factors into their decision-making.